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New digs for AIFF

Long cramped in its 700-square-foot space on A Street, a long way from any theater, the Ashland Independent Film Festival has announced a major move to the main drag, near Ashland Art Center, where it can serve as a year-round hub for screenings, workshops, talks, receptions and relaxation-entertainment for sponsors, volunteers and members of AIFF.

“It’s kind of miraculous. We’ve been looking for this a couple years,” said AIFF Executive and Artistic Director Richard Herskowitz. It almost triples the organization’s current space, provides screenings for up to 60 viewers and allows offices for the main personnel.

The move, to be completed by Feb. 1, places AIFF by the city library, and two blocks from Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the multiscreen Varsity Theater, which displays most of its films in the week-long annual film fest in April.

It will also cozy up to the large spaces of the Ashland Art Center, which has evolved into a venue, not just for many local artists but for live music, a wine bar and dancing — especially during the First Friday Artwalk.

A sneak preview of the AIFF space, designed by Julie O’Dwyer of Ashland Design Studio, is set for the Dec. 6 art walk.

The lobby will include a screening room. When its curtain is closed, it holds 12 people, and when open, 60 people.

“It can be used as a media arts gallery with three monitors on the wall,” Herskowitz says, “displaying video art, animation, student work — and we plan to have rotating exhibits on First Fridays.”

The main thrust of the move, says Herskowitz, “is preparing for space utilization and having it be the festival’s hub, the spot for community conversation about our films, for volunteers to go relax and get refreshments between shifts, for occasional programs, for members to meet featured guests — and we’re gearing up to have it as our social gathering place when we’re in full operation in April.”

AIFF in recent years has been moving more toward being a year-round presence, including its World Film Week in the fall, the Best of the Fest in Ashland, shows in Medford and even Eugene, all of which are “healthier for an organization to keeps its muscles functioning all year, instead of just a big bang in April.”

The number one thing needed for this to happen, he adds, is “space for the staff to function, and we’ve held off on that till we got a good offer for year-round space.”

The owner of the space, Greg Provost, Herskowitz adds, “has been very generous and kind and gone out of his way to make the move affordable.” Supporters have also donated, and more support for the move is expected, he said, in AIFF’s year-end fundraiser.

Herskowitz acknowledged that one drawback is lack of parking on the main drag, “but people in town know how to find spaces.” The move will also serve to “help in building up the east end of East Main as its own arts district. The interest is there, and as demand builds, so will parking.”

Fans of AIFF “love the independent, alternative and classic films,” notes Herkowitz. “We present the noncommercial films that represent different cultural voices and different artistic and experimental styles. We supplement what’s on commercial film. What people love even more is the social opportunity to interact, and this will add a lot to the festival experience and keep it going the rest of the year.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Courtesy photoRendering of the Ashland Independent Film Festival’s new space on East Main Street.